Technology shares jumped in Asia on Friday after better-than-expected earnings from sector bellwether Intel, but stocks elsewhere in the region were largely subdued amid fresh doubts about the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.
Tepid U.S. retail sales data and a rise in jobless claims lifted Treasuries and provided a lead for government bonds in Japan and South Korea as investors bet U.S. interest rates will be kept very low for a prolonged period to give the economy time to get on more solid footing.
European shares were seen inching higher as Intel's results fueled hopes for a strong earnings season. Financial spreadbetters expected Britain's FTSE 100 <.FTSE> to open 13 to 15 points higher, Germany's DAX <.GDAXI> to open 6 to 14 points higher, and France's CAC-40 <.FCHI> to open 2 to 9 points higher.
But U.S. stock futures slipped 0.2 percent on investor worries about the durability of America's recovery as the boost from government stimulus measures fades.
In Japan, the Nikkei average <.N225> flirted with negative territory for much of the session before closing up 0.7 percent at a 15-month high, buoyed by tech shares such Tokyo Electron <8035.T>, a top supplier of memory chip-making equipment.
But analysts said profit taking was weighing on the index as it drew near 11,000 points, with investors wary after seven straight weeks of gains. <.T>
Tech-heavy markets like Taiwan <.TWII> and South Korea <.KS11> were the big gainers after Intel's
Taiwan <.TWII> ended up 0.8 percent at a 19-month closing high while South Korean shares <.KS11> closed nearly 1 percent higher as tech heavyweight Samsung Electronics <005930.KS> hit a fresh record high.
Geoff Lewis, head of investment services at JP Morgan Asset Management, said although corporate earnings had improved, they still needed to be bolstered by good economic data for markets to move higher.
You still have to see continued good news on the economic front to validate improvements in corporate earnings forecasts.
Intel's 28 percent increase in fourth-quarter revenue plus a financial forecast well ahead of Wall Street's expectations came on a day when U.S. retail sales and weekly jobless claims data disappointed and ultimately proved a drag on Wall Street, with major indexes ending the day only marginally higher. <.N.>
The Commerce Department said retail sales fell 0.3 percent last month, the first decline since September, as consumers spent less during the holiday shopping month.
A separate report from the Labor Department showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 11,000 to 444,000 last week, higher than the 437,000 claims analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast.
Mark Konyn, who oversees about $11 billion as Asia-Pacific chief executive of RCM, a unit of Allianz Global Investors, said improved earnings being seen in the tech sector were a result of corporate demand carried over from past years.
What we are seeing in technology is continued momentum partly as a result of deferred capex spending over the last almost two years now slowly coming through and that will probably continue for a bit longer now, he said.
DOLLAR, YEN RECOUP LOSS AS RISKY BETS ARE REDUCED
Currencies seen as more leveraged to global growth, like the Australian and Canadian dollars, rose initially on Intel-fueled demand but the U.S. dollar <.DXY> and yen later reversed their losses as investors pared risk amid the uncertain economic outlook.
Overnight, the Australian dollar briefly rose to $0.9331, its highest since mid-November.
Japanese government bonds also rose after the U.S. economic data boosted U.S. Treasuries, but gains were capped as the firmness in Tokyo shares made investors hesitant.
The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks traded outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was flat after rising as much as 0.25 percent. It has risen 2.5 percent in the year so far. The index of technology shares was up 1.03 percent.
The Thomson Reuters index of regional shares <.TRXFLDAXPU> was down 0.37 percent.
The Nikkei average rose to its highest since October 2008 with data showing flows into Japan equity funds hit a near 3-year high. The MSCI Japan index <.MIJP00000PJP> has risen 6.7 percent so far in the new year.
It would not be surprising when there will be brief periods when Japan will outperform, it has done so badly in the past. It is difficult to become enthusiastic over that market, said Lewis, whose fund is neutral on Japan.
Oil weakened and was set for its first weekly drop in more than a month, as the disappointing economic data added to expectations for reduced heating demand in the United States.
(Editing by Kim Coghill)